PCHS teacher Allsbrook gets funds for The Magnolia Detectives

Published 7:18 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

Polk County High science department chair Jennifer Allsbrook wants her students to have experience with the cutting edge of scientific research: DNA science and biotechnology. After Allsbrook applied for and received a $15,000 grant form Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc, and a $2,000 ING Unsung Heroes award, they will have the opportunity to do just that.

In collaboration with John Vining of the Polk County Extension Service of the NC Cooperative Extension Service, Allsbrook and her students will embark on a project they have titled, The Magnolia Detectives.

The students in Allsbrooks intro to biotechnology class will attempt to determine the closest relatives, through DNA analysis, to an unusual stand of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana) located in Polk County.

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According to Vining, this particular Magnolia is typically found growing in the coastal areas of the Carolinas. The Polk students, along with Allsbrook and Vining, will collect samples and use technology to conduct DNA sequencing to determine the closest relative to the Polk County stand of Magnolia Virginiana.

Individuals from Western Carolina University, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Smithsonian Institute will provide additional expertise, equipment and materials to make this project a success.

Allsbrook hopes her students add valuable information about Magnolia genomics to the science community. The students will share their findings through pamphlets, a Web site with a blog, and a published scientific paper.

I am truly excited about sharing DNA technology with my students and I look forward to working with John Vining to solve Polk Countys Magnolia Mystery, says Allsbrook, who adds that she developed the project because many of her students strive to enter schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina and will be better prepared for college level academia with real-world research experience.

Allsbrook recently received the $15,000 grant from Toshiba Americas Eastern Region Director of Sales, Lisa Allen, who presented the grant on behalf of the Toshiba America Foundation (TAF). TAF contributes to the quality of science and mathematics education by investing in projects designed by classroom teachers to improve instruction for students in grades K-12.

In August, Allsbrook was notified that she had received a $2,000 ING Unsung Heroes Award for innovative teaching.

The ING Unsung Heroes awards program recognizes Kindergarten through 12th grade educators nationwide for their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to positively influence the children they teach.

Since honoring its first unsung hero 13 years ago in 1996, ING has awarded $3.2 million to nearly 1,400 educators across the United States.

Allsbrook has also applied for grant funding from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

According to Vining, Polk Countys native Sweetbay Magnolia population has a wide range of trees of various ages that have most likely been here for hundreds of years, maybe longer.

Polks stand of trees is what is occasionally referred to as an out population, he adds. The next closest native stand was reported in Yadkin County, about 130 miles east of Polk. There are approximately four isolated populations in NC. Polk County is the furthest west. There are hundreds of populations on the coast.

There is one isolated population in Georgia, one in Virginia and four in Pennsylvania. With volunteer help and Mrs. Allsbrooks class we are going to try to get leaves from a number of out populations and compare their DNA to see if they could be related.

Community members who would like to volunteer to help Allsbrook, Vining and the students with this project are welcomed and asked to contact Allsbrook at Polk County High School 828-894-2525.